The most intimate moments in art – portrait painters and their subjects laid bare on film and in exhibition

By Vanessa Thorpe

The National Portrait Gallery’s new show surveys the history of old master portraiture, with some surprising insights into the emotional connection between sitter and artist

The artist and the subject of a portrait form a bond like no other. It may come about by chance, perhaps even covertly, with a quick sketch made in passing, or formally, over a series of arranged sittings. Whatever the occasion, the two are then bound together by the portrait.

This summer Stanley Tucci’s latest film as a director, Final Portrait, will attempt to reproduce the intensity of such an encounter. Starring Geoffrey Rush as Alberto Giacometti, it tells the story of the great Swiss artist’s attempt to paint a likeness of his friend, the American writer James Lord. The creative process ahead, a flattered Lord is assured, will only take a few hours. What follows, in Tucci’s careful cinematic treatment of Giacometti’s endeavour, is an entertaining collision of two world views, a kind of duel between the sitter and the artist, as the endlessly deferred completion of the portrait takes over their lives.

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